Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Privacy watchdogs blast Google over its online books product's lack of privacy

Good to see there are folks out there browbeating the Monster of Mountain View about its complete lack of privacy safeguards:

Google's effort to put entire books online creates serious privacy concerns, civil liberties groups warned today.

The Mountain View company's repository of data about its users' reading habits could become a “one-stop shop for government and civil litigant fishing expeditions into the private life of Americans,” the groups wrote in a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

“Google book search is like someone following you down the aisle at the library, writing down every book you pick up and every book you sit down to read,” Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director with the ACLU of Northern California, one of the organizations pressuring Google, said in an interview.

ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation and UC Berkeley's Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic voiced their worries as Google tries to expand the number of books available through its service. Proposed settlements with book publishers and two universities – subject to court approval – would allow it to make millions of more books available.

As usual, Google is trying to claim it takes privacy seriously. At least, that's what employees of the company are saying, without offering any specifics. (Translation: It's a bunch of hot air).

The watchdogs are asking Google to do the following:

  • Respond only to properly issued search warrants and court orders. Users should be alerted if their information is sought.
  • Retain user book search data for longer than 30 days (Google currently anonymizes cookies after 18 months and IP addresses after 9 months). Nor should it tie any book information it collects to behavior on other of the company's services without consent.
  • Create a clear privacy policy for books and publish data annually about the demands it receives for book information.

If history is any indication, these requests will probably be ignored or shelved.